Dying Light: Post Zombie Apocalypse Self-Care

a Paper Crane

Home is where the WiFi auto connects, they say. It’s where the shoes reliably come off, all the hats are hung in order, where the right type of jam is stocked in the fridge, and you know where the remote control is (most times, anyway).

More importantly though, home is where there aren’t any zombies trying to gnaw the meat off your bones and where you can slouch on the sofa, uninterrupted.

That’s how she finds Kyle Crane: slouching his worst slouch on the sofa. His ass is near hanging off, that’s how far forward he’s slipped, and his long legs are doing that thing where they take up too much space extended as they are. He’s wearing a forest green kinda t-shirt that’s a size at least too large for him, a pair of plain grey joggers, and a white sock on his left foot. The second sock is orange. It has white ducks printed on it.

His feet wiggle.

(Because there are a lot of things Kyle Crane can be, motionless is never one of them.)

So, there he lounges, feet wiggling, with his chin turned down to his chest in a way that probably means his neck will start aching soon, and a Nintendo Switch held up under his nose.

She parks herself by the door and watches him.

He’s focused. Very focused. Like the entire world has shrunk to the tiny screen in front of him. He’s also wildly expressive, she thinks. Sometimes his brows shoot up. Other times his entire face gets all pinchy. That’s when he leans his torso left or right and tilts the Switch alongside him. The buttons gets smashed harder then, too. And the thumbsticks get a vigorous workout.

Never mind all that though.

The best bit are the smiles. He has a wealth of those ready to go at a moment’s notice and now is no different. There are wide ones, the ones where he shows teeth and when his cheeks get all bunched up. And the quick ones. And the lazy ones. They all curl into his three-day-old beard and they are what end up tugging her away from the door, across the room, and reel her in to sit on the sofa next to him.

Crane doesn’t exactly look up. He throws her a quick, sideways kind of glance from where he’s halfway down the sofa, and then he’s back to playing.

That is when she notices he has three giant Haribo Dummy candies stuck on his fingers.

Yeah.

He does that.

Sticks them on— preferably a whole ten of them —and then slowly works his way from left to right, beginning with the long ends until only the rings are left. Eventually, those get chewed off too and then he repeats the exercise until he’s run out. The empty bag sticks out from where he’s squeezed it into the band of his joggers. She extracts it, balls it up, and chucks it onto the coffee table.

. . .

Or tries to, anyway. Plastic doesn’t chuck well. It gives up flying halfway and falls to the floor.

She sighs.

That gets Crane’s attention and it earns her a smile. Not just any smile, either. It’s that smile; the private one; the deceptively languid one; the one which mostly sits in his light brown eyes, where it’s unapologetically fierce and beelines right for her heart.

He scoots up. It’s an awkward, wobbly motion, involving lots of grunting and shoulder-rubbing into her direction until he’s finally in a position where he can drape an arm around her.

See, Kyle Crane is a cuddle bug.

Give him any indication you’re up to get nuzzled at and he’ll be right up in there, happy as a clam. (It’s a phrase he dropped on her at some point and it’s stuck, though she can’t for the life of her figure out what makes clams particularly happy.)

Anyway.

He pulls her in close, rubs his cheek against hers, and drags her into his world of— ah— Terraria.

She blinks.

There’s a tiny sprite dude blasting other tiny sprite dudes to bits with what she assumes to be a boomstick of sorts and— she blinks some more.

“Are those zombies?” she asks.

“Mhmm,” he hums. The noise rumbles around in his chest, deep and comforting so close to her ear.

“Isn’t that a little, I dunno—“ She gives her arm a half-hearted lift, gesturing lamely.

“—cathartic,” Crane says. “That’s what it is. Cathartic. Wanna try?”

“No. I’m good.”

“Kay. Hey. Lemmi show you something.” His fingers squish some buttons. The thumb sticks get a wiggle. And suddenly Terraria!Kyle is standing in a ginormous tree. A tree that is also a house, she assumes. Rooms are held up by wide branches and ringed in by leaves and there are lanterns dangling on the outside — and, honestly, there is so much to see, she can’t process it all at once.

“Tada. My tree house. ‘cus it’s a house. And a tree.”

“It’s very intricate,” she admits.

“Right? I been working on it all week. Look—“ He zips up the middle of the tree’s very wide trunk, right along a chain. “—top floor, bedroom.”

It does, indeed, have a bed. In front of a large window looking out across a jungle. She nods quietly to herself. He’d do that if he could get away with it. Have a bedroom real high up somewhere. With the wall facing it being nothing but glass. There’s also a bookcase though. Which is very him, too. Plus more books on shelves. And starfish. And shells. And a pink piggy bank. Also very him. The clutter. The hoarding.

Crane zips back down. “Armoury.” With, well. Armour. On mannequins. And chests full of weapons, or so he says. Further down there’s the dryad and the zoologist. The first one is a lass in nothing but some vines covering her private bits and the second one is a fox lady. Or a cat lass. She can’t tell.

He ships them, he says.

She snorts.

Next, he shows her a kitchen. Then a crafting room. After that, a bathroom with an actual tub and a toilet (“Where does the poop go, Crane?” “Shut up. It’s magic.”) and eventually the bottom floor, where he’s built a deck over a pretty jungle lake off on the left.

For fishing.

He’s an avid fisher, she’s found out. Has a soft spot for fly fishing in particular and often whinges how he doesn’t get to go as much as he’d like.

There’s more to the ‘tree house’. A lot more, and, eventually, something catches her attention. She worms her hand up until she’s able to wiggle a finger at the far right of the small screen.

“What’s that? They look like tombstones?”

“Oh. He-he.” He clears his throat and taps the first one.

Kyle couldn’t put the fire out, it reads.

Her right brow quirks up.

Kyle’s flailing about was finally stopped, says the next one.

“That’s a miracle,” she comments. Crane bumps his head against hers. Gently.

Kyle forgot to run.

Kyle discovered gravity.

       Kyle tried to swim in lava.

And so on and so forth.

“Wow,” she says. “Little Kyle isn’t having the best of times, is he?”

“Little—“ Crane pauses.

His mouth snaps shut. And, after that, it’s a miracle she can’t actually hear the worn-out gears in his head turning. Though she can most certainly feel how the lips he’s pressed to her temple curl up into yet another smile. This one’s cheeky, she imagines.

“Yeah. He’s having it rough. Wanna help cheer Little Kyle up?”

. . .

Okay, she walked into that one. She admits that, readily, but even more so readily she pokes at his ribs with her finger. Once. Then twice. At the third jab he huffs. At the forth the huff turns to a laugh and he twists awkwardly away from her — while not actually going anywhere and always snapping right back.

“I hate you,” she lies, her voice flat, and bites at his nearest finger with one of the candy rings still stuck to it.

“Thief,” he accuses and pulls her in tight again, his chin back to rest against her head. “Fine. Wanna help with decorating instead?”

She nods while idly chewing on the candy.

“Sweet. Okay— so—“

Yeah. Home is where the WiFi auto connects. Where you got all your favourite jam. Where the hats are all in order. And, sometimes, home is tiny and it’s also a tree, and you watch it grow while wrapped up in the arms of a man who can’t wear two matching socks.

a Paper Crane

APHELION: CHAPTER 16, Smörboll.

In which Varrett peeks where he shouldn’t peek and Sophya is informed she’s an ‘overall kinda gal’.

Varrett— being a man with a very curious nature —kept most of his attention on the bruise shuffling through his unit. Whatever he had left he shared between not looking at the holes in his front door and rummaging for coffee at the same time.

Yep.

He could do a number of things at once, he was versatile like that.

Anyway.

Sophya looked lost, he thought.

Not untethered in her head kinda lost, but airdropped into IKEA without a map lost. A settled systems IKEA, mind you. The kind you needed a three day pass for and a local guide. Plus a backpack full of snacks for the long stretches between themed restaurants. With their themed meatballs.

Varrett, for his part, preferred the traditional and (almost) reasonably sized Earther IKEAs, where he’d come to find an almost unreasonable amount of love for the word smörboll back when he’d been a kid.

Smör.

Boll.

. . .

Varrett snorted, cleared his throat, and wagged the coffee tin he’d been holding in his hand while his auto pilot malfunctioned and had him idle like an ass (and staring). So maybe he couldn’t do a number of things at once. Whatever.

“Hey, Fi,” he called.

Her attention snapped to him and her eyes pinched every so slightly.

Cute, he thought. Which’d come out of nowhere and he bundled the thought up, carefully shoved it behind him, and decided to revisit it later.

But it’d worked. The calling her Fi bit. It’d thrown her out of whatever loops she’d gotten stuck in.

Alright. I got this, he reassured himself. He was, after all, fantastic at distracting women. Or so he liked to think.

“Sophya,” she corrected him.

“Mhm. Wanna help me make breakfast?”

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Aphelion: Chapter 15, Prickly little thing.

In which… quack.

Sophya came to understand that a neck brace and an aching body were the sorts of things that liked to keep fretting minds awake. Especially with a sofa so inhospitable, she wouldn’t have been surprised if it decided to stand up and dump her on the floor. Failing that, it chafed at her arm where she lay squashed against it and resorted to being generally unpleasant to her back.

But those were unkind thoughts towards a borrowed kind of bed and Sophya figured you shouldn’t be unkind to things you were borrowed like that. Even if they made sleep a distant thing. Coveted, but denied.

She tried to toss. To turn. Got nowhere with either, since the neck brace/collar thing had teamed up with the sofa and was diligently disagreeing with every move she made.

Subdued, Sophya huffed up a dramatic sigh.

Silence pressed in around her. A complete thing; one that stations did not have. Not entirely, anyway. If it wasn’t the air filtration system labouring or the constant murmur of the station’s large bodies buzzing with activity, then it was their whispers that had always— unfailingly —kept her company. Their murmurings. Their telling her about the Einling scuttling through a vent, teeth nipping at cables. Their tales of aching hydraulics for joints.

Yes, stations were chatty, and she’d lived on them long enough now to have forgotten what it was like to have silence.

Oh. And then there was the light. Even in the dead of night, a light had begun to pour through the panorama windows, where it splashed against the ceiling with a dirty and almost pink glow. It wasn’t very bright, no, but it was enough to make her wish she could slap her hand against a light switch and it’d go out. Which, with stations, was exactly how light worked.

Not so on planets.

・・・“Are you going to lie there and be miserable all night?”

SIN had draped herself over the sofa’s backrest, her paws dangling lazily. She’d been observing the storm which pushed the odd, pinkish light ahead of it ever since it’d gotten dark.

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APHELION: CHAPTER 14, Soulwho?

In which everyone is tired and Collin drops a shoe on Varrett’s head.

After he had ditched the aether with Olof and given the whole Runner’s station a beat-by-beat retelling of his Too Close Encounter Of The Choking-Kink Kind, Varrett finally dragged his aching bones back into the unit. Barely in and he pulled to a halt, with the sliding doors snapping shut maybe half an inch from his ass, and then he kind of just stood there. Motionless. His pack hung awkwardly from his left shoulder. His headband had ridden down onto his forehead at a lopsided angle. And his right sock had slipped down and was all bunched up under his heel.

. . .

Varrett sighed.

The empty unit responded with resounding silence.

Which was nice. Really nice. The hush felt like a goopy, cool balm on his nerves; not unlike that moment when you stepped out of a party where they’d been blasting music at ungodly volumes all night, giving your thoughts a chance to hear each other again.

Or when you killed your Hawk’s engines. Let it drift. Gave yourself up to its trajectory, with the void of space stretching on around you, reaching for that elusive concept of infinity.

But then there was the ever-present full-body pinch on his insides, that reminder of his haunting. Had it dulled? Yeah. A bit. The closer he’d gotten to CA5TLE, the less in his face it’d been. But it was still there. Still itched.

Varrett absent-mindedly scratched at his chest. That did nothing to help, naturally.

Anyway. Shower.

He kicked off his shoes. Threw his pack aside. Shed his clothes and gear, and then he endured yet another cold shower with the dignity of a two-year-old whose favourite cartoon had just been turned off mid-episode.

Once a squeaky, shivering clean, Varrett wandered his naked ass into his room, where he threw on whatever clothes he could find without having to go hunt for them, and flopped down on the bed. A bed that came with the unfamiliar scent of dusty feathers stuck to the pillow and blanket. Because, yeah, he’d had a girl in here and— tragically —it’d been the first one since he’d moved in.

Something about thin walls.

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Dying Light: Without

a Paper Crane

Harran fits him like a well-measured suit.

Kyle Crane admits to that readily. On his best days, he’s a man with an unquenchable thirst to do the right thing. On his worst, one with a defective sense of self-preservation.

I’m here to make a difference, he tells himself when he rises morning after morning, sometimes to his body aching since he’s slept on naked concrete and with a draft antagonising his joints; others—when he’s real lucky—to the reasonable comfort of that dusty room the Tower let him have.

He’s confident that, if he gets this right, he’ll save lives. And he will get it right.

He has to.

Rahim dies.

Kyle’s knuckles bleed, torn open in a fit of frustrated agony. He heaves in air and clenches his fists. The rain washes his blood off a metal wall. Blood he’s left there after he’s traded it blow after blow.

That kid had been too young to die.

He’ll get it right next time.

When Zere dies and Rais throws the GRE’s crooked lies at Kyle’s feet, Kyle wonders who he pissed off and just when his life had spiralled so far out of control. When he’d been bitten? When he’d accepted the contract? Or when he’d been born upside down, doomed right from the start?

He won’t give up. He can’t. There’s too much at stake. Harran will burn if he doesn’t get it right.

Day and night turn to a blur. Kyle wakes up screaming one night. His heart is in his throat and the vivid memory of a weeping—wailing—child he’d choked to death because it hadn’t been a child anymore is so real then, that he stumbles from his makeshift shelter and vomits off the edge of a roof.

Jade dies.

For him.

He’d been the one who’d come to save her. Not the other way around.

But Kyle knows death, and so he wraps the memory of her in a quilt stitched together from red-hot fury and vengeance-yet-had. He’ll cut Rais’s heart out, he vows.

Tahir dies. Kyle feels a little better.

Rais is next.

It’s not enough.

I’m here to make a difference, he reminds himself as he drags himself back to the dusty room they let him have, night after night. Day after day. It’s home now. It’s his. It’s where he hangs his clothes. It’s where he collects the quirky bits and pieces he picks up as Harran runs him ragged. A hotel room sign here. An odd rock there. A wizard’s hat given to him by a pack of smiling children. And all he had to do for that hat was kill a troll (and kill a man’s already-late-wife).

In the mornings, when he’s ready to leave, he pauses at his door. His fingers tremble. His throat bobs. It takes a while, but he stills the shakes. Then he summons a smile and shoves the door open.

Rinse and repeat.

One night, Kyle slumps into the chair belonging to the rickety desk in his room. He ditched his shoes at the door. His clothes stick to him, glued on by sweat and blood. There’s a persistent ache in his back where a muscle won’t heal after he’s pulled it one too many times. His left knee feels like it’s filled with hornets. Kyle shoves his tongue between his teeth and works his sidearm free from its shoulder holster. He slams it on the table. Got to tend to it. Clean it. Make sure it won’t give out on him; like he fears his body might. Soon. His fingers shake. He hasn’t even worked the gun’s slide off yet when his head hits the desk and the world turns comfortably dark.

Continue reading “Dying Light: Without”